He's only 24 years old, but after serving two tours of duty in Iraq as a U.S. Marine Corps intelligence specialist, Dan Parker is one of about 200 Kansas University students who are also military veterans.
It's been a big weekend so far for Parker, who graduated from McPherson High School in 2000. Friday was the Marine Corps birthday, and on Saturday he celebrated Veterans Day with those younger and older who have fought in wars.
"It means a lot more to me now. It's kind of too bad that it's not a bigger thing or that it's not more of a growing concern," Parker said.
Earlier this year, Parker, now a KU sophomore studying political science, and some fellow student veterans started an organization, the Collegiate Veterans Assn., on campus to help advocate for young veterans issues and start a social club.
It's a nonpartisan organization started to support college-age military veterans.
With 25 members, Parker is trying to focus on growing the membership base, and the group has worked with KU administrators, including establishing a credit plan to help student veterans pay for their books more easily.
Why did you start the Collegiate Veterans Assn.?
It was a voice that was really missing from the student body. It's not that there aren't a few hundred of us walking around the campus, but it's just that we are not in any way organized. The university is pretty good with veterans relations, but there are a few things that just need to be streamlined.
On a college campus, how do you view attitudes toward the Iraq war?
I'd say the student body is absolutely insulated because they are not being asked to fight this war and they probably won't be. ... Unless there's a draft, there's no reason this war concerns them, really. They might have an opinion about the war, but they are not really being asked to give up anything personally, so I think for a lot of them, there is that disconnect from the war.
Part of the reason for that - it's not because they are not being asked to sacrifice anything for it - because our military is pretty small now, which means a lot of people don't even know someone who is in the military.
(Outreach to students) is in the plans for the future for the (College Veterans Assn.). Right now we are only a few months into it.
What do you see as the most important veterans issue?
Education benefits are a growing concern to me and other veterans because the GI Bill just goes up for inflation. While you have, at most institutions across the country, inflation being rapidly outpaced by increased tuition.
So it's really getting to a point where even with the GI Bill - if you have the College Fund, you are OK - but a lot of people don't get the College Fund. And reservists that have been active and go to Iraq, they don't get the GI Bill even though they served in the same way that other people have.
After such swift success overthrowing Saddam Hussein's regime, many people have since been critical of the lack of ability to stabilize Iraq and the plan going in. What is your opinion on Iraq today?
I think it's still worth it, and we should stay. We need to stay for a few more years until there is at least a security situation that the Iraqis can inherit from us and take control.
We need to have that kind of commitment. It's basically just "you broke it, you bought it." If you really want to do regime change, and you do it right, it is a long-term commitment. I think that's part of the problem, is the American obsession with instant gratification.
What is your opinion on Defense Secretary Donald Rumsfeld's resignation this week?
From my perspective, I didn't really think Rumsfeld was the problem as much as some of the people around him. But he's been doing the job for a long time. Six years - that's a pretty long time to be in any cabinet-level post, especially right now during such intense scrutiny.
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